[-empyre-] COVID-19 Movement V: Grave

Maria Damon damon001 at umn.edu
Sat May 2 02:49:17 AEST 2020


On Fri, May 1, 2020 at 12:46 PM Patricia Zimmermann <patty at ithaca.edu>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> *COVID-19 Movement V: Grave*
> April 30, today, 1975:  the end of the war in Vietnam, or, as the
> Vietnamese called it, the American War, or the war of US imperialism.
> 45 years later, on this same day, *63,733* Americans have died from
> COVID, more than the *58,000* who died in Vietnam.  *233,000* dead around
> the globe.  In the State of New York, where I reside, as do  friends Tim
> Murray, Renate Ferro, Kathy High, Paul Vanouse, Stephanie Rothenberg,
> Stewart Auyash, all posting on Empyre, *18,321 dead.  *
> My close friend from graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, David
> Ost, a political scientist at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, posted the
> anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War/American War on Facebook. He
> noted that the war, which killed between *1-2 million Vietnamese*, had
> the effect of "making the American government one of the worse mass
> murderers of the 20th century."
> All of these deaths, in Vietnam, and Cambodia and Laos, and then, in all
> the wars and epidemics following, from El Salvador, Rwanda, AIDS, H1N1,
> Avian flu, SARS, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Argentina, forced
> migrations across the globe surge through the neoliberal and the
> technocapitalist.  And now, the COVID deaths:  stories of people dying,
> alone. As Kathy High has stated so eloquently, and as I paraphrase, when we
> will be living with the virus?
> What cracks and fissures will be exposed?  To paraphrase Eduardo Galeano,
> what are the open veins of coronavirus?
> Beethoven's "Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op 13", also know as " Sonata
> Pathetique," from 1799, opens with a first movement in Grave (GRAH-vee).
> Grave holds the place of the slowest tempo in music: slower than adagio,
> heavy, solemn.  The tempo for our souls enduring a public health crisis of
> proportions we can not yet comprehend or navigate.
> C minor is a key I actually love, but can't articulate why.  It is tragic,
> emotive, stormy, unsettling, a key of tension and resolution, but also of
> struggle.  C-minor unsettles and opens up feelings and ideas hidden by the
> major keys.  COVID, at least my experience of it both in my psyche and on
> the screens and machines and fears that define my life right now, performs
> in C minor.
> And also, in the tempo of grave, in both the musical sense of the term,
> and the literal sense of the term as grave, and meaning of the term as a
> place to bury the dead.  Grave.
> If COVID breaks open the hidden veins of the pre-COVID world we all fought
> against in our writing, our teaching, our art making, then we might have a
> chance to play in the key of C minor.  We might have a chance to rest,
> recalibrate, reengineer, reimagine EVERYTHING:  races, classes, genders,
> identities, technologies, nations, ideas, education, writing, theory,
> speaking, the private, the public, disease, death, government, theories,
> thinking, doing, feeling, loving, economies, food,  collectivities,
> capitalism, the environment, buildings, humans, nonhumans, land, air,
> COVID has not just wrecked our psyches, our economies, our bodies, our
> health.
>  It has also unsettled, like the key of C minor, our disciplines, our
> theories, our research, our art making.  All are rocked and wrecked and
> shredded, like dissonant chords in the Sonata's first movement, separated
> by rests, moving toward resolution but not yet finding it.
> My good friend and research assistant Julia Tulke, now sheltering in place
> in Athens, Greece Zoomed with me.  She had gone to Athens to do her
> dissertation research on urban ruins, comparing Detroit and Athens.  She
> does ethnography, walking the streets, talking to people.  COVID upended
> her research.  She can't talk to people. Getting out into the streets is
> difficult. She is photographing COVID graffiti street art.
> It is unclear what to do about her dissertation, about two cities, both
> dealing with COVID now.   Her research plans are blown apart.
>  She talked to me about something deeply bothering her: the emergence of
> the COVID culture industry, with book proposals and CFPs and manifestos
> erupting from various prominent and emerging scholars weighing in on the
> virus, the pandemic, and every note of the current crisis.  COVID careerism?
> Julie pondered if this was ethical, this idea that one can just take what
> you know, the theories you swim around in for decades, and just slap them
> on this catastrophe.  She said, "we do not yet know what we think about
> things. Everything we thought needs rethinking."
>  And then we both talked about how everything is unresolved --and that is
> the only thing we know.  None of us are ready. We all need time to
> marinate, to learn these new notes, scores, movements, tempos, dissonances,
> tensions, and resolutions of COVID, a new sonata we have not yet learned
> how to play because the key is difficult, the tempos changing, the chords
> complex.
> My partner Stewart, who posted a few weeks ago in this Empyre forum, is a
> professor of public health. Books on pandemics and health disasters from
> heat waves to AIDS to the drug wars to genocide cascade through his study
> like myrtle groundcover.  He gets many calls from various friends and
> relatives asking him what he thinks about the virus, when it will be over.
> He will probably not like that I am quoting him, but this is one I wrote
> down overhearing him on a Zoom when I was making my English Breakfast tea
> to fortify me for grading papers  and programming our Rapid Response Salons
> on COVID 19 for Ithaca College.  Answering someone asking what will happen,
> he calmly (due to his EMT training in another life) explained:   WHAT WE
> The Sonata in C minor goes places we do not know.  I have played, or more
> accurately, struggled with this piece for a over a decade.  I started to
> learn it when I was recovering from surgery after my face was smashed when
> a trap door fell from a ceiling and smashed my nose and part of my face 15
> years ago.  The surgery was later than the accident.  Recovering,  I could
> not read because I could not wear my glasses on my face.  So I listened to
> operas, and played piano.
>  The piece I sunk into was the Beethoven Sonata in C minor.  Somehow, the
> unsettling chords, the grave,  adagio cantabile, the rondo movements, the C
> minor key gave shape to my crisis and my traumas that I could not speak
> about. Turbulence and unsettledness infiltrated my nerves, my body, my
> damaged face, my dreams. My face swelled from the surgery, where my  nose
> had to be rebroken and the insides reconstructed. This paragraph is the
> first time I have spoken about that accident publicly.  The accident
> changed my face, my nose, my thinking, my programming/curatorial practice,
> my writing, my life.
> Julia, Stewart, my accident, Beethoven, the key of C minor:  together,
> they move me to assert:  WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT WE THINK ABOUT ANYTHING
> And that might be the most ethical and most political place to be, to
> question everything, to go deep into the the cracks and crevices and
> fissures COVID has broken open. We are in the first movement of this new
> sonata, and the tempo is grave in every layered and multiple meaning of the
> word.
>  Some of what we did before, the theories we took solace in as a form of
> meditation, the writing we finished, the films and new media and art work
> we made, now change their function.
> They were our training workouts for the marathon of the COVID world that
> sprawls unknown before us. It demands we rethink and recalibrate and
> reimagine everything:  our theories, our writing, our teaching, our
> solidarities, our communities, our political commitments to others and to
> justice, our food supply chains,  our platforms, our interfaces, our
> screens, our machines, our bodies.
> In a recent post for the Social Science Research Council,
> https://items.ssrc.org/covid-19-and-the-social-sciences/society-after-pandemic/ which
> she heads, Alondra Nelson argues  in a piece entitled "Society after the
> Pandemic" that there is now an urgent need for scholars to bring our work
> out into the world and in conversation in the world.  "Make it dialogic
> with the world it seeks to apprehend and improve.  This is a time for
> creating knowledge pathways to a better world," she concludes.
> The confusion and turbulence of COVID: that is the place we all share
> now.  It's the first movement of the sonata, grave.
> But even the sonatas in C minor, by any composer, end with spirit and
> gusto. They do what Alondra Nelson advocates:  they create new pathways.
> They take us on a journey for which there are no words, and in the end,
> leave us elsewhere, a place we did not know.
> We may start in grave, move through cantabile, but end in rondo, allegro,
> forward movement.
> So I end these movements for Empyre the way all sonatas end, with a
> movement that moves forward, with hope, lifting the spirits, the heart, the
> soul, the body, the mind, in consort with phrasing and structures that
> suggest a way forward, *if we can let go.  If we can know that what we
> know is that we do not know.*
> I started this COVID movement V with death. I end it somewhere else: in
> media and science and policy and clear communication and parody and music
> and people.
> I leave you with three grace notes, two that point to the new media world
> emerging:
> *The first:* The daily press conferences of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo
> (full disclosure:  I am a huge fan), with their emphasis on facts, science,
> straight talk, and care for people.  These pressers have an international
> cult following. Some friends will not Zoom or text or talk on the phone
> during them.  *Art in America* did a visual analysis of Cuomo's excellent
> PowerPoints and the staging of the press briefings with everyone six feet
> apart.  A professor friend told me every faculty member on the planet
> should study the Governor's blue and gold PPTs for the clarity they bring
> to complex concepts.  You can see these press conferences on his website:
> https://www.governor.ny.gov/news
> *The second*:  The Randy Rainbow love song to Andrew Cuomo and his
> brother, journalist Chris Cuomo, recovering from COVID. Watch it when you
> need a lift:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Kydr2a7Uy4
> *The third: a big thank you and virtual hug to Renate Ferro and Tim Murray
> who had the sheer guts to know that Empyre could open up a space for us to
> say, together:  WHAT WE KNOW IS THAT WE DO NOT KNOW*
> * A huge shout out of SOLIDARITY to everyone around the world sheltering
> in place reading Empyre this month, where together, we showed, irrefutably,
> irrevocably, that ideas will get us through this.*
> Patty Zimmermann
> Professor of Screen Studies
> Roy H. Park School of Communication
> Codirector, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
> Ithaca College
> 953 Danby Road
> Ithaca, New York 14850 USA
> http://faculty.ithaca.edu:83/patty/
> http://www.ithaca.edu/fleff
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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